Why We Should Dump the New Year’s Resolution
By Lara Hocheiser
Resolution Versus Being Resolved: A Philosophical Question
Why do we make new year’s resolutions? We do so to make positive changes in our lives. Yet often times the resolution we make requires a drastic and sudden change, deprivation, and a notion of, “something is wrong with me, therefore I must change to find happiness.” Becoming resolved, on the other hand, using a sankalpa can allow us to truly shape ourselves from the inside out. Nothing is wrong; we are chipping away who we are at our core.
New Year, New me?
When did, “Happy New Year,” become synonymous with, “you are not enough?” This is precisely the psychology that fitness centers, gyms, nutrition supplement companies, and the like want us to internalize. Slogans like, “New year, new you,” pressure us into making unsustainable lifestyle changes and spending big bucks. Every. Single. Year. we are fed this messaging.
This marketing approach capitalizes on the fact that we feel unsatisfied and flawed. The turning of the calendar page puts the pressure on us to have it all figured out. So we suddenly fling ourselves into a diet of deprivation and regimen of exercise that is difficult and unsustainable because we are looking for a quick fix. Oh to be beautiful like the people in the ads.
Desiring sudden drastic change is not reasonable. It is lifestyle that gets us into healthy habits and so it must be lifestyle that shifts our habits. It is no wonder so many of us fail. Evolution is a slow process. You can’t make it happen overnight. So let’s explore this impulse to change, followed by short-lived changes, and impending failure leading back to the way we did things before.
Let’s imagine the New Year’s resolution people in the gym on January 4, working hard every day… for about two weeks. They exhaust and deprive themselves of nutritious food, devouring chicken breast and boiled eggs three times a day. And then around January 24, they are back on the couch, feeling like failures. How shall we approach change by living our yoga instead? How can we look at this differently so we can avoid this resolution pitfall?
Let’s change the motto from “New Year New You,” to “Every day I chip away.” Chipping away at goals, or living Tapas, using our burning desire to be who we are becoming, by doing a little bit each day in a sustainable and methodical way. When we do so with fervor and enthusiasm, our attitude can sustain us even as we are challenged. When we are resolved that we are absolutely sure this is what we need to do to make change, then we stay on course.
Let’s further explore how the wisdom and practices of yoga can help us make and sustain positive changes in a way that feels authentic, systematic, and incremental.
Being Resolved: Sankalpa, the Ultimate in Intention Setting
What is Sankalpa? Sankalpa is an intention that is set from a super relaxed state. The intention arises from the heart and not from the mind. When we relax deeply, our inner most desires rise up from the heart’s core to the surface, helping us to align our truest desires with our actions and thoughts. The regular practice of Sankalpa intention setting is a way to align the subconscious and conscious mind so that all of our behavior can support the transformation we seek to live out. The shift in behavior is a natural effect of being deeply connected to our truest desires. Rather than feel we should do this or that, we know exactly who we are becoming and our actions arise from that secure sense of self.
What Makes Sankalpa Different From an Intention?
Sankalpa is sandwiched between deep gratitude, which is felt and not thought, and arises in a completely relaxed state, typically during yoga nidra. Sankalpa is stated in the present tense, as if the words you speak are already true, or becoming true. So rather than choose words such as, “I intend to be a better listener,” we would say, “I listen deeply to others.” Most regular intention setting uses the future tense. “I will eat clean, “ for example. When we put the action in the future tense it feels qualitatively different than stating with absolute resolve that, “I eat clean.” Notice how these two kinds of intentions are different.
How Can We Incorporate Sankalpa Into Our Lives?
A regular yoga nidra practice, or some other conscious rest where we are led into our deepest felt sense of self is the path to the positive shift we are seeking. A professional yoga nidra recording can be listened to regularly. We might choose to practice yoga nidra every Sunday afternoon for a year, or every morning at sunrise. We can come back to the same sankalpa each time, and as the time passes, we consciously evolve our minds, words, actions, and characters into who we know we are becoming. That person we are becoming lays potentiating at all times. It’s a choice whether we tap into it and at what frequency. Will you try yoga nidra every week? How will you get in the rhythm of being resolved rather than setting resolutions?
All of the practices we commit to regularly will shape our behavior and ultimately our character. If we want to be resolved to change, we must then have steady rhythm to our practices. We must commit to regular, enthusiastic, sustainable practices. The pulse we create will, like our heart moving the blood in our bodies, move us to the beat of our own change-making needs. We will be moved with this depth of commitment. This is what the yogis call Tapas, what we briefly referenced earlier in the article. The burning desire to become our truest selves, with committed follow through, good teachers, right practice, and detachment from practice. We can experience the outcomes we seek when we practice Tapas.
Add, Don’t Deprive
It is possible to live our authentic lives of contentment in effortless ease. It won’t happen overnight. We can make manageable and sustainable changes by adding in more desired behaviors. Adding positive behaviors rather than removing “bad habits” is the most practical and sustainable way to make change. For example, to eat more healthy, adding more vegetables will fill us up by naturally reducing our desire for junk food. With time, eating extra vegetables will become a lifestyle change. It will produce the effect of dieting without the deprivation that a zero carb diet might cause. There is no way to sustain a zero carb diet forever, so when the diet ends, the weight comes back. Whereas making a lifestyle choice to eat more veggies is likely to stick and stay with us for longer. I learned this concept from my teacher Daniel Max, co-owner of JP Centre Yoga.
Morning Ritual classes on Gaia
Performing Daily Rituals: Building Lifelong Healthy Habits
Adding in one new positive practice at a time and repeating daily is likely to imprint lasting change in our psyches, and ultimately our behavior. We can repeat daily for a month until performing the act is part of our structured and disciplined daily life.
Taking incremental steps is a responsible and effective way at becoming our truest self in little moments each day. It’s a commitment that is attainable, sustainable, and possible. No matter how busy we claim to be, carving out a time each day, as little as two minutes, will yield cumulative positive effects. What was once a difficult chore becomes enjoyable, second nature, and even grounding. When those tasks become part of a routine, lifelong healthy habits can form. Ritualizing these tasks can make them feel special, sacred, and ultimately part of your life’s meditation.
Incrementalism: A way of life
There was an episode of Freakonomics on Incrementalism. Give a listen if you are still needing to be sold on taking baby steps. Little changes add up. I have seen this ring true for myself over the past 15 years on this path. Baby steps don’t yield immediate, life altering, sexy results like we may be desiring when deciding to set a New Year’s resolution. That is why we fall for the sexiness of the immediate promise of change. Yet we know this story isn’t true. So let’s write a new one. And let’s make the story one of ritual, practice, and evolution.
Practices: A Ritual I Commit To
As a kids yoga entrepreneur, I have thought a lot about helping families attain a level of calm like we experience in class at their homes. There needs to be a structure. That is why I created the Daily Practice Journal. Feel free to download this free printable journal from my website or make your own. Adults and children alike benefit from keeping track of their positive behaviors. This tool helps because as we chip away each day, we can check it off the list.
How to Ritualize Practice
Yoga ashrams have beautiful altars, clean open spaces, and the people have consistency in their approach to each practice. We can create a feel like that of a yoga ashram at home by using ritual.
- Commit to a time of day. For example, sit quietly with your intention each morning or on your lunch break. Or, take a mindful walk each day to the mailbox after work.
- Create a clean, quiet, calm environment to practice.
- Beautify the space using fabrics, incense, idols, or anything else that feels meaningful to you. If you are doing this in your child’s room, it can be as simple as lighting an electric candle over a plate.
- Do the ritual every day.
- Reflect after each practice on how you feel. Keep track of your practices as you chip away each day. If doing so with a child, help and encourage them.
- Use positive reinforcement. Be kind if you forget or choose not to practice one day and be extra loving with yourself when you have followed through despite a desire to do other things. Be lovingly stern as well, noting that choosing not to practice contrasts your happiest life. Then with love, recommit. Looking at a visual, like a vision board you made can help you re-focus when focus is lost.
- After your ritual is over and you checked off your task, put away associated objects and leave the space clean.
- Note you are complete and steep yourself in gratitude.
Practices to Get Your Mind Primed For Positive Change
Morning Gratitude Breaths: May the first breath you consciously take each day invoke gratitude. If you ever wake up with anxiety thinking about all you must do, close your eyes and start again.
- Breathe in deeply. As you exhale, whisper ‘thank you.’
- Repeat 5-10 times.
- Notice the effect and keep track in your Daily Practice Journal.
Journal Daily Using Gratitude as You Anchor
To create a conscious daily writing practice, 5 minutes a day will work wonders. Commit to this practice and notice how your mind will naturally start looking for good. When I completed my 6 month stint of this, I felt qualitatively happier and more positive. Now as I write this, I recognize my need to go back to this practice again.
- Jot down anything that comes to mind.
- Find a way to tie gratitude to what you wrote.
- If something was especially challenging, spend some extra time tying gratitude to it.
- Notice the effect and keep track in your Daily Practice Journal.
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